Steamboat Springs Close your eyes and imagine the view from the Flattops, or the glacier lilies and alpines covering Rabbit Ears Pass.
Now imagine those images through the eyes of a child.
Mike and Cindy Ruzicka say that's what makes PEAKS Summer Program so gratifying.
"Watching the kids be excited and seeing how it regenerates itself," Mike said of why the program is so rewarding. "That the kids got something out of it and brought something back."
"Their curiosity and insights are amazing. To spend my summer with these kids and walk out the back door to see these things," Cindy said.
Although Lowell-Whiteman Primary does not associate children's knowledge level with a grade number, PEAKS invites any child in the community from kindergarten through fourth grade to register for the program.
Climbing mountains, swimming streams and following rainbows may seem like simply playful summertime activities for children. However, the Ruzickas said writing in their journals, painting pictures and learning outdoor wilderness skills doesn't seem to phase the children when they rush home to brag about the fun they had at summer camp.
Mike said that's the key element to the program.
Not that kids don't realize they're actually learning, but the mental stimulation continues throughout the summer, making a smooth transition into the next school year.
"It's keeping their mind rolling. They haven't missed a beat," Mike said. "There's a definite benefit. Kids don't realize, 'I'm writing and I'm reading.'"
Mike said the program is sponsored by Lowell-Whiteman because of its direct correlation with the school's environmental and academic philosophy.
"With a hands-on educational focus, this is an opportunity for us to give a taste of Whiteman to the community," Cindy said.
In its fourth year of full operation by the Ruzickas, Mike said the program redefines itself every year because of the flexibility of the schedule.
Children can attend all seven weeks of the program, one week or even one day if they choose. Therefore, the number of children changes everyday, as well as the number of counselors.
But Cindy noted the ratio of campers to counselors is never more than 6 to 1.
Last year, no more than 12 students attended the summer program, and the Ruzickas expect about 24 will register this year.
Whether it's learning photography skills or deciphering animal tracks, the Lowell-Whiteman affiliates will teach children about the wonders of the wilderness.
The program starts with People Power. The children will go biking, canoeing, walking and kite-flying.
Mike said the importance of these activities is to teach the students that transportation can take place with human power. Fuel is not always needed to get places.
"All activities pertain to the environment. We're teaching kids how they play a role in the environment," Cindy said. "If they enjoy it, they'll help preserve it."
Mike said because Whiteman has a strong environmental philosophy that accompanies the academics, a summer program that follows the same doctrine is imperative for all children at this age. PEAKS follows the same philosophy, but is geared for summertime activities.
One of the goals of the program is to teach children about habitats, ecology and the wildlife so they become familiar with these subjects.
"We want to give them a great sense of independence. We have kindergartners hiking with their own backpacks. Our main goal is for them to have a successful, happy experience in the wilderness," Cindy said.